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Day 10: Truffles

Today’s treat is not baked, but very tasty and easy to make.  It amazes me sometimes how much we are willing to pay for chocolate truffles when it’s not terribly hard to make them at home.

The thing that makes these so easy is that they are rolled in a coating and not dipped in tempered chocolate.  Tempering chocolate is a tricky business that involves quite a bit of precise temperature regulating.  If you eliminate that step, though, you get a treat that even kids can make.

In fact, that’s just what my kids did yesterday and today.  They each chose a flavor for their truffles.  One chose peppermint and the other mexican chocolate.

I was busy shuttling back and forth between the two of them so there are no pictures of the chocolate mixing process.  The recipe I used can be found in Dorie Greenspan’s book, Baking Chez Moi.  However, there’s lots of similar recipes out there if you want to try them.

Rolling the ganache into balls was messy, but it doesn’t really matter if they are done evenly because it all looks good in the end after they are rolled in their coatings.  The peppermint ones got rolled in ground up white chocolate, while the Mexican ones got a cocoa powder/cinnamon/chili powder coating.

Because these are not coated with tempered chocolate, they have to be stored in the fridge.  They taste better if you leave them out for a while to warm up, though.  The boys are planning to give some of their truffles away as gifts to their friends.  That’s only if we don’t eat them all first!

I’ll be sure to include a few in the Christmas Treat box that I am giving away in just a few days.   Be sure to leave a comment to be included in the drawing.  (If you need the rules, here they are.  Tell me about your favorite chocolate.  My favorite chocolates to eat are from Chuao.  They have a passionfruit truffle that is really yummy!

 

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Cake of the Week: Vanilla Nutella Swirl

The idea for this week’s cake came from two giant jars of Nutella that have been sitting in my pantry for a little while.  We love Nutella.  Well, maybe not all of us.  The same person who doesn’t love icing on cake also is fairly ambivalent about Nutella.  The rest of us love it.  I have to say, though, that we have trouble eating through an entire jar, especially the super sized ones from Costco.  This is partly because of my conscience.  Unless I am spreading it on some whole grain or multigrain bread, I have a hard time serving it for breakfast or lunch.  However, it is perfect for dessert, which is what I am talking about today.

My goal for this cake was threefold. First, I wanted the Nutella to be a star, but I didn’t want to be overwhelmed by it, so I thought that pairing it with a classic vanilla pound cake would be just right.

Secondly, I wanted it to be pretty.  Since I was pairing it with vanilla, a swirly look would be nice.  Your results may vary, but I was pretty happy with the results.

And lastly, but really most importantly, I wanted it to be easy.  This one is made easy by the fact that everything is just stirred together.  There is no creaming of butter and sugar and adding things in little increments.  Just, dump and stir, or more accurately, whisk.

Some things will need to be melted (butter and Nutella) and it does kind of make a mess in the kitchen.  I am usually a pretty tidy person in the kitchen because I hate to clean any more than I have to, but for some reason, throw Nutella into the mix and chaos comes with it.

There was Nutella on my clothes, in my hair, all over the counter, and my hands.  It’a all worth it in the end, but just be aware and keep a lookout!

These three requirements aside, this recipe would be not be here if it also did not pass another test: the taste test.

The boys approved and all the adults who helped me test it also approved.  This is not a light and fluffy cake.  It is dense, like a pound cake should be, but full of vanilla buttery flavor.  The Nutella portions are a little moister and melt ever so slightly in your mouth.  To help intensify the Nutella flavor, I glazed the cake with a simple Nutella glaze made with melted Nutella and milk.

If you don’t want to make a whole bundt cake, the recipe can be halved and baked in a standard 8.5 by 4.5 inch loaf pan or make the whole recipe and split it between two loaf pans.  That way, you can have one now and freeze one for later.

Vanilla Nutella Swirl Cake

makes 1 large bundt cake or two loaf cakes

2 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces) all purpose flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup heavy cream at room temperature

6 large eggs at room temperature

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

2 cups (14 ounces) sugar

1 Tablespoon vanilla

1 cup (11 ounces) Nutella

for glaze:

1/4 cup (2.75 ounces) Nutella

2 Tablespoons whole milk

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a large bundt pan with a capacity of at least 12 cups.  A flour spray such as Baker’s Joy will work here as well.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, and vanilla until a foamy.  Add the cream and whisk until combined.
  4. Whisk the flour into the egg mixture.  Then, carefully, so that the butter does not splash everywhere, whisk in the melted butter.
  5. In another medium, microwavable bowl, heat the Nutella in the microwave for about 30 seconds.  You don’t want it to be super hot, just warm enough to loosen it up a bit.  This will help you incorporate the cake better more easily.
  6. Add 2 cups of the vanilla batter to the Nutella and whisk until smooth and combined.
  7. Now, you are going to layer your cake batter in the pan.  Spoon half of the vanilla batter into the cake pan, followed by half of the Nutella batter.  Then, spoon over the remainder of vanilla batter followed by the rest of the Nutella batter.  Swirl gently by passing a butter knife through the batter once or twice.
  8. Bake 50-60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool in pan on a rack for 15 minutes.  Then, unmold over a rack to cool completely.
  9. When the cake is cool, make the glaze.  Heat the Nutella and milk together in a microwave for about 30 seconds.  Whisk until smooth and loose.  If it is stiff, keep heating it in the microwave for 15 second intervals until you get a pourable glaze.  Pour the glaze evenly over the top of the cake and use a knife to spread it so that it gently runs over the sides of the cake.  As it cools, the glaze will set into a matte finish.
  10. Slice and enjoy!  Serves anywhere between 12-20 people, depending on the size of your slices.

Chocolate Cherry Almond Cake

This week’s cake of the week holds very special memories for me.  I first made this cake over ten years ago when I was expecting my second child.  It was the middle of summer.  It was hot and I was 7 and a half months pregnant.  I was already uncomfortable and I still had almost two months left before out little bundle of joy was expected to enter the world.  We had gone cherry picking and had some fresh cherries hanging around, so I made this cake.  I credit this cake for getting me through one week of that uncomfortable time.  My husband doesn’t remember the cake at all.  That could be because I ate practically the whole thing by myself.

Anyway, flash forward 10 and a half years later and we are in the middle of winter when fresh cherries are nowhere to be found.  I had a hankering for this cake, though (and no, there are no buns in the oven this time!), so I did some tweaking and the result is just as good if not better than my memory of the cake.

To make this cake in winter, you will need to find jarred or canned sour cherries in light syrup.  I had a jar of Morello cherries that I got from Trader Joe’s just before Christmas.  However, when I went last week, there were no cherries to be found.  I did see some at the grocery store that were tinned, though. Just be sure you are buying cherries in syrup and not cherry pie filling.  That won’t work here.  For this recipe, you’ll need 12 ounces of drained cherries and 1/2 cup of the juice.  The cherries from one 24.7 ounce jar from TJ’s measured two heaping cups of cherries.

You may find that if you have to use canned cherries that you will have some left over.  They are great in smoothies.  In fact, we kept the leftover syrup in the jar and drank it with soda water to make homemade cherry soda.  Do not be tempted to use more cherries in the recipe, though.  It will make the cake too wet and soggy.

I baked this on a snowy day.  We ate it warm and it was light and fluffy and heavenly.  It almost melted in our mouths.  After it cools to room temperature, it starts to get more fudgey, but it is still moist and delicious.  The cake keeps well for up to four days at room temperature if you can make it last that long.  We had it for breakfast and dessert.

It was fabulous and the best part is that you can bake it any time of year you want.  Though I did not do it, I think this cake would also be wonderful cut into heart shaped pieces and served for Valentine’s Day.  The baker gets to eat all the offcuts:)  To make it even more decadent, serve with a mug of Mexican Hot Chocolate.

CHOCOLATE CHERRY ALMOND CAKE

(adapted from Gourmet, July 2003)

1 cup boiling water

3/4 cup (2 1/4 oounces) unsweetened cocoa powder (not dutch process)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup reserved cherry juice from the cherries below

2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour

1/4 cup (1 ounce) almond flour (this is optional, but nice if you have it)

1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) packed dark brown sugar

4 large eggs at room temperature

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

12 ounces (a little over two cups) drained sour cherries from a 24.7 jar (keep the juice!  You will need it)

1/2 cup dried tart cherries

1/4 cup sliced almonds

Confectioner’s sugar for serving

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour a 13 by 9 inch baking pan, preferably metal.
  2. Whisk the boiling water and cocoa powder in a bowl until smooth.  Then, whisk in the 1/2 cup of cherry juice, the vanilla extract, and the almond extract.  Set aside.
  3. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and almond flour (if using).
  4. In a bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until very light, at least 5 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl as needed.  Add the eggs one at a time and mix until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Add the flour mixture and cocoa mixture alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. The mixture might be a little curdled, but should also be fairly light and fluffy.
  6. Stir in the chocolate chips, dried cherries, and drained cherries until evenly distributed.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and level.  Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the top of the batter.
  8. Bake 40-45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Test carefully in several places!  The cherries can trap pockets of unbaked batter. Let cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving with an optional dusting of confectioner’s sugar.   Makes 16-20 servings.

 

 

 

Day 9: Fudge

In our house, we do not partake of fudge often. The husband dislikes it strongly. You could say he hates it, but hate is such a strong word that we discourage its use. The boys like fudge ok and I like it in small quantities. Do you remember when fudge was quite a “thing”? There used to be a place in downtown Baltimore in the touristy part that sold fudge and the employees would sing and act while they stirred the fudge on a huge marble table with giant paddles. I always loved watching that show, plus they gave out samples at the end.

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Good fudge has a reputation for being difficult, though there are many simplified recipes out there, I really wanted to make a true fudge, one that did not rely on shortcuts. It actually took quite a bit of digging to find a recipe that only used sugar, chocolate, and cream. Ok, there’s a little bit of corn syrup in there as well, but I am finding that most candy recipes call for this ingredient. It keeps sugar crystals from forming in candies and since it is not as bad as that high fructose stuff, I have made my peace with it.

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We found that fudge is really not all that difficult to make. Like many of the candies we have made, all the ingredients go into the pot, everything gets stirred up until it is combined, and then you boil it until it reaches the right temperature.

In the case of fudge, after that temp is achieved, it then has to sit around until it has cooled to a certain temp as well. Then, it has to be beaten until thick (hence the giant paddles at the store).

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I wouldn’t say it was hard, just time consuming, though most of the time is spent waiting around.

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In the end, we had some really great fudge. It was creamy and smooth and not as sweet as other fudges we have had. The beating also made the texture a little bit lighter. Walnuts were a great addition.

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Well, this recipe did not change the husband’s mind about fudge. He still really dislikes it, but I personally really liked this fudge and the boys liked it, too. I thought it was better than most other fudges out there and would make it again. Next time, I want to try making it with goat milk. It would be fun to play with different flavors and mix-ins. Any suggestions?

Day 4: Bark

I don’t know anyone who does not like chocolate and so chocolate makes a wonderful gift for anyone. There are lots of easy recipes for chocolate barks out there, but we have never made them. Why not? Because of tempering.

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Tempering is the process of changing a material’s molecular structure so that it is stronger and more stable. My engineering husband can tell you what they have to do to temper metal so that it hardens correctly and does not buckle under pressure. That stuff goes over my head a bit and I leave that kind of thing to the professionals. However, when it comes to chocolate, tempering is really crucial. Any chocolate you buy at the store has a snap and a slightly shiny appearance. In short, it looks good and it is tempered. But, once you melt a chocolate, it loses its temper and if you don’t go through the process to get that temper back, your chocolate will turn gray when it hardens. It’s just the cocoa solids surfacing and perfectly edible, but it’s really unattractive. It’s not a look that you want to have on your holiday gifts. In the past, we have tried doing chocolate dipped pretzels and strawberries and other things, but they always turn gray unless you keep them in the fridge.

So, when I decided to make some chocolate bark, I knew I would either have to use white chocolate (which won’t show the gray) or I would have to attempt to temper. Well, armed with a super accurate and fast thermometer and a simplified process, the boys and I went to work. For our first try, we decided to use a low quality chocolate, namely chocolate chips, because I hated to use the really good stuff in case it did not work out.

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And work it was! My goodness! I was not expecting to be still stirring the chocolate an hour later. At first, we overheated the chocolate, so it had farther to go in the cooling down process. At the end, it took almost ten minutes for it to cool down one degree. This is where it was really handy to have little helpers in the kitchen. They took turns holding the thermometer for me and even stirred a little to give me a break.

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We finally got it down to the right cooled temperature and then it was just a few minutes work to bring it back up to the right temperature so that we could pour it.

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One of the signs of tempered chocolate is that it hardens quickly, and the edges of ours were pretty hard before we had all the toppings imbedded. The real test is letting it sit over night to see if it blooms.

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It looks fabulous. So, we have successfully tempered chocolate, yay! I would highly recommend this article about how to temper chocolate; it was easy to follow, as long as you are prepared to stir for a long time. This opens up a whole world of chocolatey possibilities for us, which is super exciting. We swirled in some melted white chocolate chips to make it look fancier and used pistachios and dried cranberries for a festive touch. It’s beautiful and delicious.

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Don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway! Tell me what your favorite chocolate mix-ins are!